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Color Blindness: Can You Treat It, and What are the Options?

Thursday, March 6, 2014 @ 07:03 AM
Author: Amit Mathur

Color blindness is a relatively common problem, though it is more common in men. About 1 in 12 men suffer from the condition, while about 1 in 200 women have it.

Despite its ubiquity, color blindness is often misunderstood. In contrast to what its name suggests, color blindness does not mean that the person cannot see any color. Most people who suffer from it cannot fully see reds, greens and blues. The experience can be like looking at an overexposed photo or one that has lost its saturation.

Sometimes, color blindness can cause a person to mix up colors. For example, if a person has trouble seeing reds, they might not be able to distinguish between purple and blue. Without the red tint in the purple, it will appear as blue. Other colors that can be affected include reds, greens, oranges, browns, pinks and greys.

It is very rare that a person would not be able to see any colors at all.

Cause of Color Blindness

The majority of cases of color blindness are due to genetics – as many as 99 percent of cases. The condition is passed down through the mother’s genetics, and the deficiency is on the X chromosome. Those who are color blind don’t necessarily have a color blind mother.

The genetic deficiency causes changes in one of the three types of cone cells in the eyes, or it can cause one of these cells to be absent. These cells are located in the macula (which is inside the retina), and they are responsible for sensing red, green and blue light. Depending on whether someone has a deficiency or is missing these cells will determine whether they can see any red, green or blue light at all, or they can only see limited amounts of these colors.

There are other causes of color blindness, though they are not as common. Some diseases and poor health conditions can also lead to color blindness. For example, diabetes and multiple sclerosis have both been linked to the development of color blindness.

Poor eye conditions can also lead to color blindness, such as glaucoma, age related macular degeneration and cataracts. Eye injuries can also result in color blindness.

Some people can also experience color blindness as they age or as a result of the side effects of some medications.

Treatment for Color Blindness

Since most cases of color blindness are genetic, the condition does not improve over time. It also means that there is no cure for color blindness. While some study has been done on the possibility of using gene therapy to repair the damaged chromosome, no advances have been made with that treatment. If gene therapy does become a reality, it will be an expensive and extensive treatment.

Correction of color blindness is possible in some cases. Light filtering lenses can be prescribed to help those with color blindness see more of the deficient color. These lenses may not always be able to restore full color vision, but they may be able to make enough of the color visible to distinguish it from other shades.

Color filtering lenses look a bit like 3D glasses. They are glasses with colored lenses inside, such as red, blue or green. Many people find these glasses to look awkward or to clash with their personal style. If that’s the case, contact lenses with color filtering may also be available. The contact lenses work the same way as the glasses, but they fit over the eye instead, creating less of a distraction from your personal aesthetic.

Surgery to create other eye problems that are contributing to color blindness can offer some relief. For example, if a person has a cataract that is causing the color blindness, then surgery to correct the cataract may restore some color vision.

Most often, people who are color blind simply learn how to adapt their habits to accommodate the deficiency. For example, they would look for a light at the top of the traffic signal instead of looking for a red light, or they would recognize the shape of a stop sign instead of the color. Wearing regular glasses that block glare can also help wearers see some colors more clearly, in some cases.

Diagnosing Color Blindness

People who have always been color blind may not understand that there is a problem – after all, the colors have always appeared the same to them, and they don’t know what they can’t see. Over time, they will understand the problem through interactions with others. However, children may not yet be able to recognize the issue, and having their vision tested regularly can help to diagnose problems early. The earlier the problem is discovered, the earlier parents can work with them to manage the condition and reduce its impact on their daily lives.

Tests for color blindness include asking patients to identify a series of colored dots to find patterns, such as a letter or number inside the dots. Another test asks patients to arrange a series of colored chips by their similarity in colors, such as grouping the shades of red or the shades of blue.

Children can begin having eye exams as young as 3 years old.

Color blindness may be incurable, but it does not have to significantly impact your quality of life. You can get treatment through wearing colored lenses or contact lenses, or you can learn how to manage the condition over time. With scientific advances, you may even one day be able to receive a cure.

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